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Recently, I did a lot of studio photography (read: improvised hobbyist studio) using an APS-C camera (Pentax K-30). I don't see any major limitations due to the body.

However, larger formats like full-frame and medium-format cameras appear to be classic studio cameras. What are the reasons to opt for such a larger format for studio photography?

The usually-improved dynamic range seems unimportant using controlled lighting. Nor do I see the thinner depth of field as an advantage. So all I can think of are higher resolution and features that are not inherently bound to those formats e.g. improved controls or leaf-shutter lenses.

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Historically, product photos were taken with large format cameras so that perspective distortions could be corrected by bending the film plane with respect to the image plane. Nowadays we can easily correct for keystone distortions using software.

Additionally, distortion correction requires enormous depth of field. Apertures of f32 and smaller also mean longer exposure times. Given huge film planes, focal plane shutters are impossible and only leaf (in-lens) shutters can be used, generally only available for large format photography.

These days, you can't give away this large format equipment; nobody wants it other than the odd landscape photographer. There is nearly no advantage to it for studio photography, especially for commercial print services. I know of a few studios where this equipment is kept at the ready, but generally only to impress clients.

Digital medium formats, however, are still useful for detailed extra large format prints like you find in department stores and billboards.

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Some reasons:

1) Sharpness.

2) Size... If you have a 80Mpx image you need point 1 first.

3) Dynamic range

improved dynamic range seems unimportant using controlled lighting

Seems unimportant..., unless you need it. If you are taking a photo of a well known actor or actress, you want to squish the more information you can get from your image.

A medium format camera is NOT due if it is a portrait studio, or a car studio etc, is due how much your client expect with the file... and how much he pays you for it...


One technical note:

You can have more and more denser sensors to push the resolution of a file, but two other main aspects need to be taken into account.

a) Noise. Normally the smaller the sensor, the noiser it gets because less photons hit each unit, among other things.

b) Difraction. There is a point where does not matter how compact your sensor is, the lens will produce some difraction that is hard to improve.

For both cases one solution is a bigger sensor.

  • Thanks for the reminder in the technical note. Did you mean Bit-Depth instead of Dynamic Range? With controlled ligthing I rarely encountered clipping, unless wanted with a black or white backdrop. Increased Bit-Depth however would result in more information for the same picture. – Grebu Jan 10 '17 at 16:33
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The larger chip is, the higher resolution for given pixel density is, or for given resolution larger (=more accurate) pixels are.

In studio YOU rule the light and you have plenty of time to wait for camera to process the image. And usually you want to get as good images as possible.

TL;DR: Try to shoot some images with fullframe and/or Hasselblad, your Pentax and your smartphone. You will see the difference for sure.

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The K-30 is a 16M pixel body. Looking at some premium stock sites (ie they pay a decent amount) that is the bare minimum resolution they demand.

If you think in terms of printing, commercial printers generally want 300dpi, so the maximum you could print from the K-30, based on its specs, at 300dpi would be 16.43" x 10.88". While it's possible to print larger, there will be some loss of definition, and for commercial work, it's quite conceivable that you might need to be able to print larger than this at 300dpi, or have some flexibility over cropping.

You don't necessarily need to go to a full frame or medium format, as an APS-C body like the K-3 will have a higher resolution, however smaller pixels mean more noise, particularly at higher ISO. You mention that you have full control over the lighting, so this isn't necessarily a problem, however if you want to maintain or reduce pixel density and gain higher resolution, you'll need a larger sensor.

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